Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 08:21:06 -0500
From: "ALAN BARAGONA (by way of Alan Baragona baragonasa[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]vax.vmi.edu )"
ABaragona[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]COMPUSERVE.COM
Subject: Very TAN--Giving Finger
Coincidentally, the very day ADS-L members were discussing possible
anachronisms in Amistad and Titanic, I read Roger Ebert's review of the
latter in which he questioned whether "giving the finger" was a practice as
early as 1912. I responded, as you can see below, and received this
follow-up query from Ebert. Unfortunately, it doesn't have anything to do
with language, unless you can come up with early terms for the practice he
describes, but I told him I'd forward his question to you.
----- Forwarded Message -----
TO: ALAN BARAGONA, ABaragona
FROM: Roger Ebert, REBERT
DATE: 1/13/98, 10:18 PM
Re: Titanic: Giving Finger
I got your address via the CompuServe Member Directory and used your
message in the Answer Man for 1/11/98 (on CIS and at
www.suntimes.com/ebert). Here;s how it ran:
Q. You wrote in your review of "Titanic," "At one point Rose gives
Lovejoy the finger; did young ladies do that in 1912?" This very question
came up during an American Dialect Society's online discussion of
anachronisms in "Amistad" (where characters say "hello" despite the fact
that the word was not used until the invention of the telephone).
Apparently, the gesture has been used at least since the last century
(there are photographs of 19C people giving the finger), although I'd say
it's unlikely that a young lady would have done so in 1912. (Alan Baragona,
A. Now I have another challenge for the anachronism-hunters at the
American Dialect Society. It may be a little off their specialty, but ask
them to do their best. In "The Wings of the Dove," a film based on a Henry
James novel, two of the characters make love outdoors while braced up
against a pillar in Venice. The novel is set earlier, but the film moves
the action up to about 1910. In what year, according to the society's best
thinking, did young ladies of the sort Henry James writes about begin to
participate in such practices?
I'm not sure if Ebert is asking about 1) having sex against a pillar, 2)
having sex in a public place, or 3) upper crust girls doing this sort of
thing. Since it's apparent that prostitutes and country wenches certainly
practiced the first two, I assume this is really a question about class
behavior. I responded with Aubrey's famous story about Walter Raleigh and
the "Mayd of Honour" up against a tree in a wood, but I'm not sure this is
public enough to serve as an answer.
If anyone is prurient enough to know something about this, I'll pass your
answer along. If you want me to tell Ebert to come back when he has a
damned question about language usage, I'll do that, too.